Poll Findings: On Cuban-Americans And The Elusive 'American Dream'

Poll Findings: On Cuban-Americans And The Elusive 'American Dream'

9:11am Jan 22, 2014
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Cuban immigrants are handed forms to fill out by an immigration and naturalization official in Miami on Dec. 3, 1984, so they can become permanent residents of the United States.

Cuban immigrants are handed forms to fill out by an immigration and naturalization official in Miami on Dec. 3, 1984, so they can become permanent residents of the United States.

AP

Among Latinos, no group may have achieved the American dream as fully as Cuban-Americans.

Since arriving here, as a community, they've prospered. Surveys show they graduate from college at greater rates and have higher levels of homeownership than most other Latino groups.

But a new poll suggests that, for many Cuban-Americans, the dream is becoming elusive. The poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that 45 percent of Cuban-Americans say their finances are not so good or poor. They see themselves as financially troubled at rates higher than other Latinos.

One of those who took part in the poll was Floresdilia Martinez. She's 24 years old, a second-generation Cuban-American. Martinez has looked for work ever since graduating from high school more than five years ago, without success. She says, "I would fill out application upon application trying to find a job. And no one ever called back."

Martinez's parents arrived in Miami from Cuba at a time when the economy was booming — her father in the 1960s, her mother a little later. For them, she says, finding work was easier. "Oh, yeah," she says. "My mom was working ever since she was 14."

Robert Blendon with the Harvard School of Public Health says Cuban-Americans are also worried about the future. In the survey, 60 percent of Cuban-Americans said they were worried about possible unemployment. "They are more so than other Latinos," Blendon says, "if they're employed or have an employed family member, to be worried about losing a job in the next year."

One reason for the economic worries among Cuban-Americans, Blendon suspects, is where they live.

It's been more than 50 years now since the Cuban revolution that prompted tens of thousands of Cubans to begin fleeing their homeland. Most arrived in Miami. Today, more than half of the nation's Cuban-Americans live in Miami-Dade County.

For years now, Miami's unemployment rate has been above the national average. Many homeowners still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

Nicholas Jane is a young Cuban-American, just 22, who took part in the poll. He's discouraged about his financial outlook and also that of his parents.

"My dad is the only one that has a steady job, and even he, between 2003, 2004, he was completely unemployed and he couldn't find a job. My mom has not been able to find a steady job, and neither have I. So, it's been tough," Jane says.

The financial uncertainty and job worries of Cuban-Americans have a lot to do with their concentration in an area still struggling to recover. But Guillermo Grenier, a sociologist at Florida International University in Miami, believes they reveal something else about Cuban-Americans: Their demographics are changing.

The wave of Cubans who arrived in the early 1960s, Grenier says, came as Miami was just beginning to transform from a small Southern city into an international metropolis.

"They've benefited from the growth," Grenier says. "Cubans are the Brahmins of the community in many ways.

But that earlier generation now is becoming outnumbered by Cubans who arrived more recently. In the past decade, more than 300,000 Cubans have arrived in the U.S.

"The Cubans arriving now are way poorer. They're getting hired at minimum-wage jobs. They get very little, very few benefits. And their English is not great," Grenier says. And even in Miami, Grenier says, you need English to climb the economic ladder.

This combination of factors — a slowly recovering South Florida economy and changing demographics — are making Cuban-Americans more like other Latino groups in the U.S.

For a young person like Nicholas Jane, who's graduating from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree later this year, what he's finding is not what he feels he was promised.

"The American dream, at least for Cuban-Americans of my generation, it just doesn't seem like it's plausible anymore. It's very hard not to get an anxiety attack from thinking about the future and thinking about, 'Oh, am I able to have a nice house?' and all these other things."

Researchers say data show that today Cuban-Americans do better economically if they leave Miami. Jane is taking that point to heart. After graduation, he says, he's not even looking for work in Miami. His most recent interview was for a job in Japan.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're tracking the lives and views of Latinos in America this week. A new survey finds Latinos feel they're doing well, or getting there. Large numbers say they've achieved the American Dream, or are on their way.

Among Latinos, no group may have achieved the American Dream quite so fully as Cuban-Americans. Survey show they graduate from college at greater rates and have higher levels of homeownership than most other Latino groups.

But there's some trouble, here. Many Cuban-Americans feel the American Dream is becoming more difficult to attain. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Floresdilia Martinez is 24, a second-generation Cuban-American. She's looked for work ever since graduating from high school more than five years ago, without success.

FLORESDILIA MARTINEZ: I would fill out application upon application, trying to find a job. And no one ever called back.

ALLEN: Martinez says her parents arrived in Miami from Cuba at a time when the economy was booming - her father in the 1960's, her mother a little later. For them, she says, finding work was easier.

MARTINEZ: Oh, yeah. My Mom was working ever since she was, like, 14.

ALLEN: Martinez is discouraged about her finances, and a new survey shows, among Cuban-Americans, she has lots of company. A poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that 45 percent of Cuban-Americans say their finances are not so good, or poor.

MARTINEZ: They see themselves as financially troubled at rates higher than any other Latinos. Robert Blendon with the Harvard School of Public Health says that was unexpected.

ROBERT BLENDON: And not only are they more likely, Latinos, as a whole, to see themselves financially troubled, they are more so than other Latinos - if they're employed or have an employed family member - to be worried about losing a job in the next year.

ALLEN: Blendon suspects one reason for the economic worries among Cuban-Americans is where they live. It's been more than 50 years now since the Cuban revolution that prompted tens of thousands of Cubans to begin fleeing their homeland. Most arrived in Miami. Today, more than half of the nation's Cuban-Americans live in Miami-Dade County.

For years now, Miami's unemployment rate has been above the national average. Many homeowners still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

Nicholas Jane is a young Cuban-American, just 22, who took part in the poll. He's discouraged about his financial outlook, and also that of his parents.

NICHOLAS JANE: My Dad is the only one that has a steady job, and even he, between 2003, 2004, he was completely unemployed, you know, and he couldn't find a job. My Mom has not been able to find a steady job, and neither have I. So, it's been tough.

ALLEN: The financial uncertainly and job worries of Cuban-Americans has a lot to do with their concentration in an area still struggling to recover. But Guillermo Grenier, a sociologist at Florida International University in Miami, believes it reveals something else about Cuban-Americans. Their demographics are changing.

The wave of Cubans who arrived here in the early 1960s, he says, came as Miami was just beginning to transform from a small Southern city into an international metropolis.

GUILLERMO GRENIER: They've benefitted from the growth. Cubans are the Brahmins of the community, in many ways.

ALLEN: But that earlier generation now is becoming outnumbered by Cubans who've arrived more recently. In the last decade, as Grenier points out, more than 300,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S.

GRENIER: The Cubans arriving now are way poorer. They get hired at minimum wage jobs. They get very few benefits, and their English is not great.

ALLEN: It's a combination of factors: a slowly recovering South Florida economy and changing demographics that are making Cuban-Americans more like other Latino groups in the U.S.

For a young person like Nicholas Jane, who's graduating from college with a B.A. later this year, what he's finding is not what he feels he was promised.

JANE: The American Dream - at least for Cuban-Americans of my generation - it just doesn't seem like it's even plausible anymore. Like, it's very hard just not to get an anxiety attack from thinking about the future and thinking about, like, oh, am I able to have this nice house and all these other things?

ALLEN: Researchers say data shows today that Cuban-Americans do better economically if they leave Miami. Jane is taking the advice to heart. After graduation, he says he's not even looking for work in Miami. His most recent interview was for a job in Japan.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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